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Legislative roundup

The week at the Arizona Capitol

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On Monday, the House Committee on Education heard a bill that would fund ninth graders who were enrolled in a Joint Technical Education District. Rep. Ethan Orr (R-Tucson) is the primary sponsor; fellow Tucson Rep. Victoria Steele (D-Tucson) signed on with him.

JTEDs were created in 1990 so students could pursue vocational, technical and career-oriented classes that don’t typically require an advanced degree. The program, which is in place in 13 districts, has decreased the dropout rates in those districts. Orr said: “I believe the reason is because it’s a very effective teaching model for some students. You allow kids to do project-based education, to put their hands on the material, which is why they have such a high graduation rate.”

The bill passed through the committee 8-1. “I’d love to see JTEDs be able to go down to the middle schools and the junior highs. I think it’s the best dropout prevention program that we have,” said Rep. Doris Goodale (R-Kingman).

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The Senate Committee of Judiciary considered the repeal of 2305, the omnibus elections bill that was pushed through the Legislature at the end of the session last year. The House version passed through the House Committee of the Judiciary last week and passed through the Committee of the Whole on Thursday. The debate in the Senate committee, similar to that in the House, divided along party line. Many speakers who came to oppose the bill. The bill passed along party lines 6-3.

Sen. Judy Burges (R-Sun City West) proposed a bill that would prohibit female genital mutilation. Twenty states have already passed laws against female genital mutilation and 12 have made it a felony to perform such mutilation on a minor. The bill passed 8-1 through the committee, with Senator Steve Gallardo as the only opponent. Federal law has banned female genital mutilation in the United States since 1996, as a crime punishable by five years in prison.

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The House Committee on Agriculture and Water heard a bill that would strengthen laws against livestock and animal cruelty. “Animal control can intervene with great difficulty if at all. In the unlikely event of an intervention, prosecutors can attempt to prosecute but they can’t really convict. And if by some miracle conviction occurs, the penalties are minor,” said Rep. Kate Brophy McGee (R-Phoenix). “The offendent gets off with a slap on the wrist and probably stops by the local pet store on the way home.”

Despite Brophy McGee’s passionate testimony, there was opposition, including from Kathleen Mayer, the legislative liaison for the Pima County Attorney’s Office. Mayer said she worries the new legislation would make it more difficult for her to prosecute animal-cruelty cases and might also make penalties for animal abuse less severe.

“If I kill their goats and horses under Title Three, that’s a class five felony. If I allow my own to starve, it’s a class one misdemeanor,” Mayer said. Animal rights legislation failed in the Legislature last session because of problems that the law could cause for those raising livestock. Barton and Brophy McGee are trying to address those issues this time around. The bill passed through the committee 6-2.

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On Wednesday, around 20 babies gathered in Senate Hearing Room 1 (with their mothers), in opposition to legislation that would prohibit licensed midwives from accepting clients who have had a C-section, are pregnant with more than one fetus, or are pregnant with a breached fetus.

Sen. Kelli Ward (R-Lake Havasu City) was the sponsor. She cited a study from the Department of Health Services at the University of Arizona, which found that infants born at home were three times more likely to die than infants born at the hospital. “One of the main reasons I wanted to bring this is I’m a pro-life legislator and I see the mom and the baby as two separate entities,” Ward explained. “I can tell you that I’d love to preserve the choice of the mother for her home birth, but that child also needs to have a choice.”

In opposition, Tori Anderson, of the Right for Homebirth consumer group, said that the government shouldn’t be able to tell women whether or not they can take risks associated with home birth. “Women and mothers are smart, informed and educated,” Anderson said. “We have a right to choose our patient care. We have a right to do our own research and make our own choices for our birth.” The bill passed along party lines

On Thursday, a bill to allow terminal patients access to experimental drugs in clinical trial passed through the House Reform and Human Services Committee, 5-2. The bill was proposed by Rep. Phil Lovas (R-Peoria) and was supported by the Goldwater Institute.

Terminally ill patients would have access only to drugs that have made it through the first clinical trial, and only after the patient exhausted all other options. The FDA already has access programs but, according to Steven Walker, the co-founder of the Abigail Alliance for Better Access to Developmental Drugs, it’s extremely difficult for a patient to get such access. When they do, the process is complex, time-consuming, uncertain, and takes too much of the limited time the patient has left, Walker said.

No opponents signed in to oppose the bill, but Rep. Juan Mendez (D-Tempe) spoke out in opposition. He cited opinion from an oncologist from Minnesota, Dean Gesme, who says that less than 10 percent of drugs beginning at phase-one safety trials are eventually ruled viable. “It is unfair and unsound government to circumvent the FDA, threatening their mission of protecting and promoting public health through the overseeing of the testing of new drugs,” Mendez said.

If the bill is eventually passed and approved by the voters, it might still face challenges in the courts if the federal government decides to pursue it, as the state would be ignoring federal law. “You have to always think about the cost and time in an effort like this, but if you can save lives then I think that it’s worth it,” Lovas said.

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Meanwhile, in the House Judiciary Committee, a bill proposed by Rep. Justin Pierce (R-Mesa) would make assisting suicide a manslaughter crime. The bill specifies that anyone who intentionally offers or provides the physical means for someone to commit suicide would be committing manslaughter. The bill passed along party lines.

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A bill by Sen. David Farnsworth (R-Mesa) allowing people to raise fowl in their backyards passed through the Senate on Thursday. “Transmit to the House via carrier pigeon,” Senate President Andy Biggs quipped after it passed.

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